For Brian Wardell, the importance of HospiceCare North Northumberland is all too clear and will never be forgotten.
His wife, Anne, was 57 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She passed away, aged 59.
It was a tough time. But Brian, 63, admits that the support from HospiceCare during her brave fight made a huge difference.
The experience also changed their perceptions of what a hospice is all about.
He said: “We had heard about HospiceCare North Northumberland, but Anne initially said she didn’t want to access those services as ‘people went to a hospice to die and I’m just not ready for that’ and that if she gave into those thoughts it would be the end.
“However, nine months after being diagnosed with lung cancer, Anne decided to call HospiceCare and spoke to Sue Gilbertson, clinical manager.
“After talking to Sue, she decided to visit the hospice before making any decisions about whether or not to access HospiceCare services.
“Anne was anxious on her first visit, she said that the word hospice sounded scary and thought it would be a difficult place to be and that it was a place to go to die.”
But as Brian admits, it was quite the opposite.
Reflecting on her first visit, he said: “It was an environment that was positive, warm, welcoming and very friendly.”
Anne immediately felt comfortable and joined the weekly therapeutic drop-in sessions on a Wednesday morning.
Brian said: “It was a place that felt very safe and secure for both of us.
“Nothing was too much trouble, the emphasis was always about living with cancer, not dying from it.
“Even when Anne became very ill and often couldn’t get out of bed, she still insisted on attending the weekly drop-in sessions.
“She always found them incredibly uplifting.”
Brian says that he enjoyed the visits with Anne as it gave him the opportunity to talk in confidence about his own fears and worries.
He also had some therapeutic treatments.
“It always felt that HospiceCare was taking the burden off us and that we were not alone in dealing with Anne’s illness,” he said.
When Anne became very ill, Sue was able to discuss the care options that were available to her, some of which the family weren’t aware existed.
As a result, Anne chose to be supported at Rothbury Community Hospital as she felt it was more appropriate to her own needs, as well as those of her family.
But Sue was still able to continue to support Anne while she was in hospital, visiting two or three times each week.
Brian remembers: “Shortly after being admitted, Anne found out our son was having a baby so she wanted to create a box of gifts she could pass onto her unborn grandchild, things that she would have given herself as the proud grandmother. Sue shopped for all the items on Anne’s wish-list.
“She particularly wanted one item, a child’s book called Spot, to be included, as it was a book she had read her own children when they were small.
“With Sue’s help, Anne saw all the wishes were completed before she died just one week later.”
The role that HospiceCare played during Anne’s fight with cancer will never be forgotten by Brian.
He said: “Since Anne died, I have continued my contact with HospiceCare and been accessing its Bereavement Support Services.
“Sometimes I chat on a one-to-one basis and sometimes with other people who are also dealing with loss.
“It is a place where we can share our thoughts, worries or anxieties in a safe, non-judgemental environment, and if I don’t feel like attending then Sue is always at the other end of the telephone.
“What Sue has done for us as a family is simply amazing and made a huge difference to us all, but especially to my wife Anne.
“A year on and I’m still so grateful for the support I’m getting.
“It is very comforting to know that the support is there for as long as I need it and no-one at the hospice has ever let me down.”
Brian hopes his story and experiences will encourage other people to pick up the phone and make that call to get the support they need for themselves and their loved-one.
He said: “I want people to know that HospiceCare is not all doom and gloom. It is a very happy, warm and friendly place to be, with people who very much care.”
Brian recently planted two rose bushes next to the summerhouse in his garden, which was a place very special to Anne.
He said: “One rose was in memory of her, while the other was to celebrate the birth of our grandson, Charlie.
“It was an incredibly moving moment when I was able to present the box of gifts to our grandson, from his grandma, my beautiful wife, Anne.”